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|Things Have Changed|
The lucky mango
22 July 2013
Previously on Changing Fates
Taiyo got out of prison with the help of Ming and ended up working as a gardener. He saw Emi again after ten years. Now they're going to meet again so they can catch up.
Hopes and Dreams
"Emi, you have no idea how much I've missed you," Taiyo said. "I thought about you every day after you left."
Emi smiled at him. "I missed you too. Yu Dao was the greatest place in the world because you were there."
"Promise we'll never be separated again." Taiyo looked at her anxiously, waiting for her assurance.
"Taiyo, I –"
"Taiyo! Taiyo, get up!" Taiyo sat up and stretched before opening his eyes. His first picture of the day was the face of his impatient friend Arrow. Arrow was a friendly guy with an unusual vocabulary. He was darkly tanned from being outside all the time. Although he was under thirty, he was bald – Arrow claimed that it made him look handsome and "attracted the ladies," although Taiyo wasn't sure what ladies he was referring to. Most Fire Nation women didn't know the Dirt Force existed.
"That must've been some dream you were having, buddy. I've been trying to wake you up for the past ten minutes."
It sure was, Taiyo thought. He never even heard what Emi was going to say! It was a dream. It doesn't matter what she was going to say. This wasn't even his first dream with Emi in it. He really needed to get her out of his mind."Are you okay? You look totally zoned." A little bit of concern formed on Arrow's face.
"I'm just hungry, that's all," Taiyo replied. Hopefully getting to work would help keep his mind busy. "What did Hu make for breakfast today?"
"Biscuits and ash bananas. We got lucky; they're fresh from Hing Wa Island."
"Wow. What's the occasion?" Usually, breakfast consisted of bread and cabbage. The Fire Nation didn't spend a lot of money keeping the Dirt Force up and running. They supplied the bare minimum to make sure that the earthbenders were still alive and happy enough to keep working. The food was still much better than prison food, so Taiyo wasn't about to complain.
"I dunno. How says that some rich kids from the ENA commented on how awesome the gardens were. Apparently they mentioned that the gardeners were really good. We got rewarded."
Taiyo immediately thought of Emi. He remembered what one of the two criminals said: she was from one of the most powerful families in the Fire Nation. Maybe she was one of those "rich kids," along with the other two students.
"Well, that's good for us," Taiyo said. "Let's get a bite to eat before heading to the gardens." Arrow nodded in agreement and they left for the kitchen.
This is going to be a great day, Taiyo thought cheerfully. This afternoon, everything I've been through will be worth it.
"So why are you going to talk to that gardener again?" Kiara asked. She raised her eyebrows and grinned cheekily. "Do you like him?"
"No!" Emi said. "He's an old friend." The two girls had just finished another intensive day of training, leaving plenty of time for Kiara to pester Emi about her life.
"An old friend? You're old friends with an earthbender?" Kiara looked at her skeptically. "You know we're in the middle of a war, right?"
Emi shrugged. "We knew each other when we were five. I just want to know what's been going on the last ten years." They exited the building and Emi headed towards the gardens.
"But Emi!" Not expecting Emi's sharp turn, Kiara hurried to catch up. "What if he's changed in the last ten years? I just don't want you to have some sort of unrealistic idea of what's going to happen."
With a sigh, Emi stopped walking and turned to face her friend. "Kiara, seriously. You're usually the adventurous one that's all about taking risks. Why aren't you just letting me do this?"
Kiara didn't answer. After a moment she said, "I guess because I don't want you going on any adventures without me."
"Hey, I'll tell you everything that happens afterward," Emi promised. She gave her friend a hug and walked the rest of the way to the gardens alone.
When Emi entered the rose garden, Taiyo was still working. She stood silently for a few moments, unsure of what to say. How could she greet the only friend she remembered from her childhood? Hey old friend, good to see you again. How's it been? What more did they have to talk about? Sure, she wanted to know what he'd been doing and how he was in the Fire Nation capital, but beyond that there was nothing to say. They had totally different lives and nothing in common.
Emi sighed loudly and then froze. Whoops. Taiyo glanced over his shoulder. When he saw who was standing in the garden, he stood and smiled.
"Hey Emi. Have you...been there a while?"
"Um, no – yes." Emi looked away. Talk about awkward.
"Okay." Taiyo looked at her strangely and she felt her cheeks grow hot. "I'm glad you came."
Now it was Emi's turn to look at him. "You asked me to, so here I am."
"Yeah." He looked down for a moment. "So, it's been a while." Emi nodded in agreement. When she didn't say anything, Taiyo continued. "What's been going on? I mean, you're in the ENA! That's a pretty big accomplishment."
"Oh, that." Emi grinned. It was a big accomplishment, and she appreciated the fact that he knew it. "I got lucky. One of the High Generals noticed my firebending skills and wrote me a letter of recommendation."
"A High General?" Taiyo didn't know much about the Fire Nation hierarchy but he knew that the High Generals were the Warlords that were second only to the Fire Lord. Emi had to be pretty good.
"Yep...so that's my story. What about yours? How did you get in Zune Kasai from Yu Dao?"
Taiyo shrugged. "It's kind of a long story but..." He paused. "A while after you left, the Fire Nation started sending troops into the colonies. At first they didn't do anything. The first couple years they were just acting as guards, protecting the citizens and stopping arguments and fights. But they slowly became tyrants, taking more money than was due and persecuting the Earth Kingdom citizens."
Emi frowned. All she had been taught said that the Fire Nation was spreading their greatness. Taiyo's story didn't line up with the image of the army she knew: honorable men who brought technology and innovations to all the kingdoms after winning battles.
"People started rebelling and I joined one of their groups – much to my mother's dismay. We weren't doing anything terrible, but one day the soldiers got tired of it and rounded us up. Some of us in my group refused to surrender, which got me landed in jail halfway across the globe."
"All the way over here?" Emi asked disbelievingly. That didn't make sense.
"Yeah. I guess they didn't want us to have any hope of escaping."
"What happened after you got put in jail? Obviously you're not locked up anymore."
"Oh, they found out I was an earthbender and gave me this job. It's not too bad, especially when we have good food."
Emi rolled her eyes. "So you're saying that gardening for the rest of your life is okay as long as you have good food?"
Taiyo sighed, a frown forming on his face. "Maybe not...but I'm trying to stay optimistic here! It's not like my situation is going to get any better! I can't leave and go home. I'm never going to be home again." Emi was surprised by his sudden outburst, then sad. She had no idea of his predicament – he was stuck in the middle of the Fire Nation alone. The only family he had was all the way in the Earth Kingdom.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know." Could she do anything to help him? She considered talking to Kuzai, but quickly dismissed the idea. He relished war and conquest and she had the feeling that releasing war prisoners wasn't on his to-do list. In fact, bringing it up might get her in trouble. Anything she did would be on her own.
Taiyo glanced up at the sky, which was starting to darken and warp into the colors of the sunset. "It's getting late. I have to head back." He smiled crookedly as if he didn't quite have the energy to smile for real. "Thanks for the talk, Emi. It was good seeing you."
"Yeah." Emi watched as the lonely earthbender turned and walked away, quickly disappearing between the hedges of the garden.
She had to fix this. It wasn't fair that Taiyo was stuck out here. If only he could leave. Emi could probably arrange a boat...suddenly she got a crazy idea. Don't worry Taiyo. I'm going to get you home.
"Taiyo! Taiyo! You won't believe this, but I can get you home!" Taiyo looked up in surprise to see Emi running towards him. How did she find him? He had been assigned to a part of the garden on the complete opposite side of the palace! And she had a way to send him home? Emi was definitely the nicest girl ever.
Suddenly Taiyo remembered another kind girl: Akira. He had almost forgotten about her these past couple weeks. She was still stuck in jail. Did she miss him? Taiyo felt guilt wash over him. He left the prison without looking back – he didn't even tell her that he was leaving. He never said goodbye.
"Why do you look so sad all of a sudden? I thought you wanted to go home." Emi looked at Taiyo with concern on her face. He tried to smile.
"Of course I want to go home. I was just thinking of someone." Taiyo didn't want to lie to anyone, especially Emi. He just hoped she wouldn't get specific and start interrogating.
"Who? Your mother?" And of course, she did.
"Uh, no. Someone else...I met in prison."
Emi's eyebrows rose in a combination of disbelief and suspicion. "You met a girl in prison? Do you like her?"
"No!" Taiyo protested. "And how did you know she was a girl?"
"By the way you said it," Emi replied. It seemed that she was good at reading people like Akira. Great, now there were two girls that could see into the depths of his soul. Hoping to distract her from her questioning, Taiyo changed the subject.
"So, what's this about sending me home?"
"Oh yeah. Well, I was thinking about how the only way to get to the Earth Kingdom from here is by ship. So I was looking for ships that I could borrow. There weren't any available but then I found something better! There's a merchant ship that's leaving in the evening tomorrow."
Tomorrow. I could go home tomorrow, Taiyo thought in amazement. He could see his mother again. He'd finally be free of the Fire Nation, free to do whatever he wished. But one thing held him back – Akira.
"It's headed for Kyoshi Island, but that's not too far from Yu Dao. I think –" Emi stopped mid-sentence when she saw Taiyo's face. "What's wrong? Aren't you happy?"
"I can't. I can't leave," Taiyo said. He looked down at the stone ground to avoid Emi's eyes; he didn't want to see her upset expression.
"Why?" Taiyo didn't say anything, but of course Emi figured it out anyway. "Is this about that girl?" she asked incredulously.
"Her name was – is – Akira. She was nice to me. I can't just run off and leave her there." Taiyo glanced up at Emi's face. She looked frustrated, maybe angry.
"You're really not going to leave without her?" Taiyo shook his head and Emi sighed loudly. "Well, I guess it's time for a new plan. Operation Bust-Taiyo's-Girlfriend-Out-of-Jail is now in progress."
Taiyo glared at Emi. She is not my girlfriend. I'm just being nice. He realized that it was useless to point it out, so he didn't bother. "How are you going to bust her out of jail? That prison is guarded twenty-four/seven."
"There has to be a weak link somewhere. A guard that sleeps during his watch? Do you know if anything like that happens?"
Taiyo shrugged, but then a certain guard entered his mind. She certainly wasn't a weak link in his mind, but perhaps she could help him out one more time. "I have an idea."
"Cool. I'll go find my friends. They can probably help."
Just This Once
"C'mon, guys. This guy has been separated from his family for years!" Emi had been trying to convince her friends to join her for the past ten minutes, but Chan refused to do anything dangerous.
"There is no way we're breaking into the prison. Kiara and I will be staying here, training and obeying the law."
Kiara glared at Chan. "Since when were you my mother? I can do whatever I want!"
"I'm your older brother and I say no! That's final."
"Where's your sense of loyalty? I'm helping my friend do something that's important to her. Think, we're being noble here! We're reuniting a family! We're reuniting separated lovers!"
So maybe Kiara had taken Mission Rescue the wrong way, but it wouldn't hurt anything. In fact, it could be quite entertaining to see Taiyo's reaction to Kiara's ideals. Very entertaining. Now Emi just had to convince Chan.
"Chan, could you please do this? For me?" So far nothing Emi said had changed his mind, and it looked like pleading wasn't going to either. Instead of losing her dignity by begging, Emi grabbed Kiara's hand and pulled her so the girls were standing side by side. "Look, Kiara's coming with me either way so you might as well join us to provide some protection."
Kiara gave her friend a questioning look, no doubt wondering if Emi really wanted to die today. Emi just winked and turned back to Chan. He was glaring at her in a fashion similar to Kiara, which made Emi realize how alike the two siblings were. Both were stubborn, independent, and strong, but Chan let his protector instincts overrule his sense of adventure.
"This could be our only chance to go on an adventure together. It's your only semester at the academy. Then you're off to war and you won't have time to have fun and...break the law," I said. That was probably the most treasonous thing Emi had ever said, but it rolled off her tongue quite easily. She looked at Chan hopefully and was surprised by what he did next: he started laughing. Kiara and Emi exchanged glances of disbelief – an expression Emi had worn several times that day.
"Chan, are you okay?" There was real worry in Kiara's voice, which only made him laugh harder.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he said after a few deep breaths. "It's just that – we're standing in a military institution and you're trying to convince us to break the law so that two teenagers can be reunited and escape the Fire Nation illegally."
"Well, yeah." Emi hadn't thought of it that way before, but it did sound pretty ironic. "I guess this won't look very good on our records if we get caught."
"So we don't," Kiara said.
If only it were that easy.
"So, there's one guard that might help us out. Her shift starts right after lunch." Emi and her friends were in the gardens, listening to Taiyo explain his plan. It was the day of the ship's departure so this was their only chance to get Akira.
"I don't think one guard is going to be able to do much," Chan commented. He had finally agreed to come along earlier that morning after realizing there was nothing he could do to stop the girls.
"If she got me out of jail, she can get Akira out of jail," Taiyo said confidently. "Now, here's the plan: we'll find Ming, convince her to help us, and somehow get Akira out of the building. It'll be easier to rescue her away from all the guards."
"Sounds like you have everything figured out," Chan said sarcastically. Kiara and Emi glared at him in unison.
"Stop being so negative!" Emi snapped.
"Hey, I like to know exactly what's going to happen before I jump into things. It's good to be prepared."
"That's not a luxury we have right now," Taiyo said. "I'm pretty sure no one's ever tried to break someone out of this jail before. There's no way of knowing what's going to happen."
"It's probably because no one's ever wanted to. No loyal Fire Nation citizen wants to break war prisoners out of jail," Chan muttered.
Emi frowned at his comment. Was he trying to say they were disloyal? She disagreed. She was completely loyal to the Fire Nation! She just wanted to help her friend. Besides, Taiyo assured her that Akira wasn't a criminal. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was doing the Fire Nation a favor!
"Okay, let's meet up a block away from the prison after lunch," Taiyo said. "Outside the old pottery business."
"We'll be there," Emi promised.
Taiyo was the last one to arrive, emerging from one of the many narrow alleys in this area. The part of Zune Kasai they were in was more run-down than the rest of the capital city. Emi looked at the old pottery shop and wondered if it had been successful at one point. It looked like it had been closed for quite some time; the closed sign hanging on the warped wooden door was lopsided, the letters faded. Through the giant hole in the side she could see shards of pottery scattered across the floor. How did Taiyo even know this shop was here?
"Sorry I'm late guys. I had to get How to cover for me. I guess he'll be covering for me a long time..." Taiyo looked down the street. "Let's get going."
"This part of town is kind of creepy. I've never been out here before," Kiara admitted. Earlier, she had confessed that breaking someone out of prison would be the most exciting thing she'd ever done. Emi felt the same.
They followed the road until they could see the base of the prison. Then they worked their way around to the entrance. A steady flow of people were going in and out, which seemed strange. Emi looked over at Taiyo who had a confused expression on his face. Then his face lit up.
"This is perfect!" he exclaimed. "I forgot they were working on the prison. There'll be lots of people traveling through the prison to get to the upper floors. It should be easy to sneak into Akira's level and get her out."
"Awesome," Emi said. "Can we pass for workers?"
"Chan and I probably can," Taiyo said. "I don't know about you two."
"I'm sure some of the workers are girls," Kiara said huffily. "We can do just as much as you guys!"
"I'm sure. But –"
Emi interrupted him. "There are no 'buts,' Taiyo. We're in this together."
Taiyo shrugged, realizing that he couldn't compete with two stubborn girls. "Fine. But we can't all go together. Two of us can do surveillance and two of us can go find Akira. I have to find Akira; I'm the only one that knows what she looks like."
"I'm coming with you," Kiara said quickly. She glanced at her brother, who looked shocked. Emi was surprised too – why did Kiara want to be with Taiyo? Did she want to prove that she was tough?
"I don't trust you with this guy. We just met him." Chan eyed Taiyo suspiciously and Emi rolled her eyes.
"The time for distrust is over," Emi said. "You can do surveillance with me." Kiara mouthed 'thank you' to Emi before slipping into the stream of people with Taiyo. They disappeared into the prison almost immediately.
"Okay, let's head in." Emi stepped out of their hiding spot and headed for the entrance, Chan close behind.
"Hey!" Emi froze and looked back. An angry-looking man was shouting at them. She turned around hesitantly. Did he realize they weren't workers? "You two, take these boxes of supplies up to the roof!!"
Emi breathed out in relief and walked over to the man, taking a box out of his hands. She realized it was very heavy; carrying it would be a bit of a struggle. She shifted the box in her arms to make it easier before heading inside the prison.
"That was close," Chan said as they began walking up the stairs.
"Yeah." Emi shifted the box again. How was she going to carry it all the way up the five flights of stairs to the roof?
The pair went up slowly, taking every step carefully. Workers bustled around them constantly, causing Emi to worry about getting stripped. When they finally reached the top, her arms ached. They walked over to a stack of boxes and set theirs down. Her fingers hurt when she stretched them out; she had been clutching the box tightly the whole way up.
A man with a clipboard came over. "What's this?"
"Two boxes of supplies, sir," Chan answered. The man looked them over and frowned.
"Where are your wristbands? Are you new or something?" Emi looked over at Chan. Wristbands? Were all the workers supposed to wear them?
"Uh, yes. We just arrived. The guy in charge gave us this job before we could get any," Chan said. Good save, Emi thought gratefully.
"Well, when you get back down there, make sure he gives them to you! The guards might arrest you otherwise. Actually, I think I have a couple extras." He dug around in the pockets of his overalls and pulled out two yellow bands. "Here you go."
"Thank you." Emi took one and slid it onto her wrist before heading down the stairs.
"I hope Taiyo and Kiara are out already," Chan said. "I don't want to have to go looking for them." They left the prison and went around the side of the prison to wait at their rendezvous point. Taiyo and Kiara were already there along with a dark-haired, dark-skinned girl – Akira.
"Okay, you guys are back. We have to get out of here, I heard the guards sound the alarm as we left." The group left, heading for the docks.
"I can't believe that actually worked," Chan said in amazement.
"Always the optimist, aren't you," Emi said wryly.
The ship left at sunset. Emi stood at the edge of the docks and watched until it disappeared completely. She didn't realize that her friends were still there until Chan put his hand on her shoulder.
"You guys were really close, weren't you," he said.
"Yeah." Emi tore her eyes from the horizon. She'd probably never see Taiyo again. They didn't get to spend much time together, but at least he was happy. He was going home to his family.
Emi thought of her family. Was Reika still mad at her for leaving? She wondered how her dad was doing. Did he still submit to his wife or was he standing strong, being the head of the household? Even though her family lived in Zune Kasai, it felt like they were all the way across the world.
"Hey, we're here for you Emi," Kiara said. She wrapped her friend in a tight hug. "We're a little family, the three of us."
Emi smiled. Kiara was right. She had a great family right here. She wasn't alone. "Let's go. We have lives to live."
"Alright! I think Sparky's is still open and I'm starving." The three friends walked back to the city feeling quite accomplished.
Everything is perfect, Emi thought happily. With friends by my side, nothing can go wrong.
If only it worked that way.
- This chapter was about 4,000 words long.
- The author was having serious writer's block during this chapter, so it may not be as high-quality writing as usual.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Changing Fates Chapters|
|Book One: Innocent|
|• • • • • • • Kyoshi Island • Visions of Dragons • Princess Azula|
|Book Two: Blind|
|Book Three: Changing|
|Book Four: Fearless|